Alister McGrath – Priest, Theologian, Scientist

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Image: Baylor University

Alister Edgar McGrath, born in 1953 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is theologian, historian, scientist, Anglican priest, and Christian apologist. He has three doctorates from the University of Oxford including a DPhil in Molecular Biophysics, Doctor of Divinity in Theology, and a Doctor of letters in Intellectual History.

McGrath currently occupies the Andreas Idreos Professorship in Science and Religion in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford and is the Professor of Divinity at Gresham College. He has previously been the Professor of Theology, Ministry, and Education at King’s College London, the Head of the Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture, a Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Oxford, and the principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He is also a founding member of the International Society for Science and Religion.

McGrath’s major interest include systematic theology, the relationship between science and religion, and apologetics. He was an atheist prior to his conversion to Christianity, an intellectual journey included on my blog here. McGrath has also debated a number of atheists and skeptics including Daniel Dennett (“The Future of Atheism”), the late Christopher Hitchens (“Is Religion a Poison or a Cure?”), Peter Atkins (“Darwin and Humanity: Should We Rid the Mind of God?”), Susan Blackmore (“Is God A Delusion?”), David Helfand (“The God Delusion?”), and Stephen Law (“Why Won’t God Go Away?”).

McGrath both criticizes and accepts several views. He has criticized atheism, New Atheism, anti-religionism, that science has eliminated the need for God, and religious pluralism. He has argued for the existence of God, the truth of Christianity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, and Christ’s resurrection. McGrath accepts evolutionary theory, and has delivered numerous lectures on the topic, some of which include the Darwinian challenge to natural theology, as well as design, suffering, and creation in the Darwinian perspective, and Darwinism and the future of Natural Theology. McGrath is currently researching the role Charles Darwin has played in more recent atheist apologetics, and the concept of the “meme” in recent atheist accounts of the origins of belief in God.

McGrath has penned many books covering a wide range of topics, and these also include textbooks on theology. The Genesis of Doctrine: A Study in the Foundations of Doctrinal Criticism (1990) looks at Christian doctrine, how it can have authority in the modern period, how it can be evaluated and criticized. McGrath examines how Christian doctrine came into existence, and the nature of doctrine itself. Glimpsing the Face of God: The Search for Meaning in the Universe (2001) looks at how the universe and its apparent design and complexity has led to questions about origins, purpose, and design. A number of ancient historical traditions, ideas, and methods are examined from ancient Greece to the modern day. McGrath argues that the sciences and the observable order of the universe point to a discoverable God. A Scientific Theology (2001) is a three-volume work (entitled Nature, Reality, Theory respectively) providing a systematic exploration of the relation between theology and science, and in which McGrath draws upon the proven assumptions and methods of the natural sciences in order to inform the practice of Christian theology. The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World (2004) criticizes the idea that the world is becoming more secular. McGrath argues that atheism cannot provide the moral and intellectual guidance essential for coping with the complexities of modern life, and he shows why religion will continue to play a major role within contemporary life. McGrath also looks at atheism historically as he traces his history from its emergence in the 18th up until the 20th century. The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the denial of the divine (2007) is a critique of the arguments and rhetoric of the anti-theist Richard Dawkins. He criticizes Dawkins’ view that faith is a juvenile delusion, that religion and belief in God conflict with science, that Darwinism is incompatible with theism, and that religious belief is merely an evolutionary by-product or a memetic virus. Surprised by Meaning: Science, Faith, and How We Make Sense of Things (2011) engages the topic of science and faith on a more beginnerm entry level. Numerous questions are explored including how we make sense of the world around us? Is belief in science and the Christian faith compatible? And does the structure of the universe point toward the existence of God? McGrath shows how both science and faith assist us in our understanding of the world. Reformation Thought: An Introduction (2012) provides an introduction to central ideas of the European reformations. It was penned with students of theology and history in mind, and goes through the likes of Catholic reformation, the counter-reformation, and the impact of women on the reformation, and more.

McGrath has penned dozens of other books too, and if readers wish to learn more about him they would do well to visit his website here.


One comment

  1. McGrath wrote The Twilight of Atheism right before several atheist books became bestsellers and a Pew poll of religious affiliation revealed that the “Nones” were among the fastest growing group in the U.S.

    McGrath also sugar coated John Calvin in his bio of Calvin and claimed wrongly that the story about a child being executed in Geneva was started by Aldous Huxley.

    The wisest thing McGrath has written may be this:

    “I retain a profound respect for [atheismʼs] aspirations for humanity and legitimate criticisms of dysfunctional religion… There is something about human nature which makes it capable of being inspired by what it believes to be right to do both wonderful and appalling things. Neither atheism nor religion may be at fault.”
    —Alister McGrath (Oxford Professor and Christian apologist), The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World, 2007

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